Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Black History Month
Elijah Pierce: Telling the Story in Wood

Recently the Barnes Foundation of Philadelphia showcased the works of artist Elijah Pierce.  Born in 1892 in Mississippi, this son of freed slaves became a wood carver, barber and preacher. 

He migrated north to Columbus, Ohio, as a youth, where he set up a barber shop and had a woodworking room in the back of the store. There he designed hundreds of masterpieces using wood, cardboard, crepe paper, house paint, aluminum foil, glitter and rhinestones.

The topics of his many creations included Bible stories, nature, popular culture, politics and animals of all kinds.  Threaded through his work was his passion for justice. 

One of his wood pictures included the words “Your life is a book, and every day is a page.”  On the pages of his life, he created scenes of slavery in cotton fields, the horrors of slave auction blocks, and depictions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Kennedy brothers who had been assassinated.   

Pierce created a work titled “Elijah Escapes the Mob.” It traces his personal experience of being accused of a crime he did not commit and being held in custody.  He gave a visual history of a country filled with injustice and inequality but also one of hope in God. 

Book of Wood depicts Jesus’ life

His most prized work in his extensive collection is the “Book of Wood” a huge wooden “book” with each 2 x 2 square-foot page depicting the life of Jesus (33 painted carvings in all).

Filmmaker Carolyn Allport produced a documentary about Pierce in 1974, 10 years before his death. “He was so genuine about everything he said about faith in God,” she wrote. “But social justice was the core of his message as an artist.” Indeed, the two should always be inseparable.

I honor the life of Elijah Pierce during Black History Month 2021. He used wood, paint and a carving knife to tell important stories.  How about you? Your faith in God should always be a message that is seen by the way you live, by the things you value and support, and by your creative outlets. 

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ and an advocate for social justice should go hand in hand.  Do people see that in you?  May “your life be a book and every day a page” that displays the goodness of God shared among all people. And may you commit to sharing that goodness in your corner of the world.


·       Philadelphia Tribune, September 27, 2020 “Barnes Continues Inclusivity Mission with ‘Elijah Pierce’s America’ Exhibition” by J. Perry

· “Elijah Pierce”  

· “Aimed to do God’s Work in Wood”


·       www.folkstreamsnet/film-detail.php?id=275 “Elijah Pierce: Woodcarver” (1974) Carolyn Allport producer

·       Also watch: “Get a Look at ‘Elijah Pierce's America' at Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation  NBC10 Philadelphia

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